Why does the U.S. cling to an alliance that has produced no results in nearly eight years?
The Israeli-Palestinian so-called "peace process" has now ground to a halt, by the common admission of all the parties involved. In the words this week of an anonymous administration adviser, matters are “utterly stuck … there is no pretense of progress.” President Barack Obama’s tortuous, two-year long road to direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that collapsed shortly after the point of commencement only underscores the following: the Israeli/Palestinian issue has proceeded for years on the wrong track.
How did we arrive here? By following a flawed vision: the 2003 "Roadmap" peace plan.
And how will we get out? By, among other things, disbanding the group that devised it – the Middle East Quartet (European Union, Russia, the U.N. and the U.S.).
It is highly unusual for the U.S. to subordinate the formulation of U.S. policy to a multilateral group, let alone one largely composed of a mixed bag of autocracies. Yet, in the wake of 9/11, that is precisely what the Bush administration did.
Why? Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell afforded a clue when he said in May 2002, “How important it was for me to have this unified body of opinion and thought behind me” in working for peace.
In other words, the Bush administration formed the Quartet to insulate itself from blame for diplomatic failure and unilateralism. Perhaps it thought that, by forming the Quartet, it could steer the Europeans to support its policy. In fact, the Quartet has steered the U.S. to support a European policy.
For proof, just compare George W. Bush’s June 2002 peace vision and the April 2003 Roadmap which supplanted it and which we have followed since.
In June 2002, Bush correctly wrote-off Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Yasser Arafat’s regime as being central to the problem. Its replacement with a regime untainted by terrorism and corruption was, in contrast, part of the solution, one that would be met with Israeli concessions as hostilities ended.
In contrast, the Roadmap – without explanation – reversed the sequence. It ordained swift Israeli moves in response to untested Palestinian reforms.
Instead of a sequence of verifiable reforms leading to a provisional Palestinian state, the Quartet skipped the reforms in favor of a schedule leading to a fully sovereign Palestinian state with provisional borders.
When the Bush administration caved and adopted the Roadmap, it all but assured us that there would be no new Palestinian leadership untainted by terror and corruption.
And so it has proven. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have dealt with, praised, promoted, and -- above all -- funded the same occasionally reshuffled deck of Mahmoud Abbas and other Arafat/PA loyalists – the same PA that honors terrorists like Dalal Mughrabi. Mughrabi led the Fatah terrorists that carried out the 1978 coastal road massacre in which 37 Israelis, including a dozen children, were murdered.
The Quartet and its Roadmap permit us to ignore this. Indeed, already under Bush, the 2007 Benchmarks scheme was working towards bypassing whatever schedule of Palestinian compliance was required under the Roadmap.
Like a rocket booster, the Roadmap served the purpose of propelling U.S. policy in a certain direction, to be jettisoned thereafter as extraneous baggage.
Last November, the PA received an extra $150 million in direct aid from the Obama administration on top of the $739.9 million it had already received from the U.S. taxpayer in 2010. And, like European aid, there were no strings attached, no benchmarks and no performance standards.
Why? Because the Quartet’s Roadmap aims to establish a Palestinian state, irrespective of what Palestinians say and do.
That may not worry some Europeans, but it is not something the U.S. can support without detriment. The U.S. has enough problems of influence and credibility in a region in which Iran is ascendant without also multiplying its foes and endangering its friends.
The Quartet has done nothing in nearly eight years except to entrench and prolong the conflict by insulating the PA from the consequences of its conduct. But a new Congress can begin to take steps. For a start, it can push for de-funding the PA.
Until now, aid to Israel has been embedded in foreign aid bills. This has insulated foreign aid from broader congressional debate and resulted in a coalition of foreign aid enthusiasts and Israel supporters passing successive bills. However, if at some point the Eric Cantor-Ileana Ros-Lehtinen plan for decoupling military aid to Israel from the overall foreign aid package bears fruit, it will become easier to subject all remaining elements of the package to greater scrutiny on their own merits. Aid to the PA should be an early candidate for such scrutiny.
A unified Quartet policy, like so many multilateral ventures, is politics of the lowest common denominator. It ignores unpleasant realities (no Palestinian consensus for peace or leadership to deliver it), prioritizes means (Palestinian state) over ends (peace), while frustrating the capacity to attain these goals.
European friends, Russian rivals and UN malefactors are unlikely to see matters as the U.S. views them. Neither on the Middle East nor on much else will their views coincide, the more so when Barack Obama leaves office. We should therefore end the charade that, on this, of all issues, a common vision can be achieved by the Quartet. But as that is the fiction for which the Quartet was invented, it would be better if it was disbanded.